“We’ve been horrified by the fact that so many young Sami feel so poorly that they actually choose to take their lives,” reads the declaration from an international conference of Sami youth which took place in Lycksele in northern Sweden this past weekend.
“Suicide and depression have long been, and continue to be, taboo subjects which are difficult to discuss. Because of that reason we believe it was of the utmost importance that the problem be addressed.”
The resolution is set to be presented to the Sami Parliamentary Council (Samiska Parlamentariska Rådet – SPR), which is scheduled to convene in Rovaniemi, Finland in a month’s time.
The SPR, which first gathered in 2000 and is held every four years, is a forum for cross-border cooperation between the Sami communities in Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Sami from Russia have observer status with the body, which is also designed to help the Sami speak with a common voice to the international community.
The head of the Sami’s youth council, Paulus Kuoljok, has lost friends to suicide and understands first-hand the pressures facing the community’s young people.
“We Sami often face stereotypes and have to defend ourselves all the time,” he told the newspaper.
“There are few employees at my own work place at [state mining company] LKAB with Sami background. I often hear things like ‘damn Lapp’ and that we Sami have things so good because we can fish and hunt where we want to and we always get welfare payments.”
While Sameland is now the preferred term when referring to the geographical region historically settled by the Sami in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, the term Lappland is still common.
However, the Sami consider ‘Lapp’ a derogatory term for referring to members of the community.
Kuoljok said he and his fellow Sami youth face the additional pressure that comes with a perceived duty to protect traditional Sami culture.
Lars Anders Baer, head of Sweden’s Sami Parliament, is critical of the Swedish government’s lack of action when it comes to helping survey the Sami’s mental health issues.
“Only now is the government prepared to launch an investigation through the National Institute of Public Health (SNIPH) into the health of minorities in Sweden. We’ve had the feeling that Sami and especially young Sami men feel worse than the population in general,” he said to the Västerbottens-Kuriren newspaper.
Baer added that Norway has done much more than Sweden to understand the mental health problems facing its Sami population and has already launched various measures to combat the problem.
“We can’t do anything before we know how the problem looks…something must be done to help the young people,” he said